Monday, June 13, 2016

The Comeback of the Printed Word

The recent flat-lining of for sales of ebooks and the rise for sales of what I admit I call 'proper' books have astonished the pundits who not so very long ago were predicting the demise of the printed word altogether. I have to admit I believed them, and was dismayed.

Will I never learn?  How often in the past have the prophets of doom, like the Victorians who wrung their hands about the problem of increased traffic in London that would mean the streets being completely impassible because of horse manure, been wrong? Yet still I worried about it. I never felt that I got as much out of a book when reading it online – smoking without inhaling, I call it.

This is, apparently, true. There is now quite a body of research that proves comprehension and retention are both poorer when the information is absorbed from a screen. In one study, students who revised from printed books had an advantage of ten per cent over the others in the following test, and a recent poll pf students found that 80 per cent of them wanted print because they believed it helped them understand with more clarity.

There are a number of suggested reasons for this. Whether an individual realises it or not, there is a marked tendency to approach ereaders and tablets in a state of mind less conducive to absorption, and just looking at a screen, too, drains more of our mental resources. It forces the reader to focus on one very small section at a time, without awareness of the whole book. One researcher suggests that it is as if a Google map could find you the individual address, but didn't allow you to zoom out to what lay around it on all sides.

And of course, a book is a physical pleasure too – the texture of the pages, the smell, the rhythmic sound of turning pages that act like leaving footprints on a trail.

When you read this, I will be on holiday in France. Yes, Kindle is very useful when you're travelling by air and have a limited baggage allowance. Fortunately, though, we're driving there and tucked away in the boot will be the book box that is a the heart of our holiday, a varied collection amassed with love over the last few weeks. I can't wait to get my hands on them.

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